It was 2014, and I had every reason in the world to be happy. A beautiful new baby. A job. A healthy marriage. A roof over my head.
But I was not happy. In fact, for every ounce our precious daughter gained, I lost a little more of myself. I became crabby and anxious, then paranoid and aggressive, and finally, despondent. I did little more than lay in my bed staring at the screen of my iPad or sobbing. My inner voice turned into a warped monster, telling me how stupid and worthless I was. Even that I was better off dead. But I resisted all attempts to be cheered or reasoned with and became angry and defensive when people asked questions. NOTHING was wrong with ME. Finally, during a particularly awful argument, I refused to let my husband hold the baby. I tried to storm away from the house and leave with her, to go who-only-knows where. After this episode had subsided, my husband Sam put his foot down. I can still remember the tone of his voice, since he had never talked like that to me before:
“MAKE a doctor’s appointment. For this week. I will drive you.”
It was an order.
I had postpartum depression.
“Laura was silent again. Then she summoned all her courage and said, ‘Almanzo, I must ask
you something. Do you want me to promise to obey you?’
Soberly he answered, ‘Of course not. I know it is in the wedding ceremony, but it is only something that women say. I never knew one that did it, nor any decent man that wanted her to.”
‘Well, I am not going to say I will obey you,’ said Laura.
‘Are you for woman’s rights, like Eliza?’ Almanzo asked in surprise.
‘No,” Laura replied. “I do not want to vote. But I cannot make a promise that I will not keep,
and, Almanzo, even if I tried, I do not think I could obey anybody against my better
Like Laura Ingalls, I am none too keen on blind obedience or broken promises. And it seems I think with the mind of the Church, because the word “obey” does not appear in Catholic marriage vows, even traditional ones.
But there’s that one pesky Sunday per year where Sam and I sit in the pew and nudge each other and wrinkle our noses and roll our eyes and snicker like twelve-year-olds. It’s St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians:
“Wives, be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the Church, the body of which he is the Savior. Just as the Church is subject to Christ, so also wives ought to be, in everything, to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her … husbands should love their wives as they do their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.”
We joke and jab and then go have a coffee, but we never dig any deeper into what submission and selfless love looks like in our marriage. Especially because (like the Wilders) our marriage consists of one hot-tempered, independent woman and a soft-spoken, kind man who is simply too decent to want his wife to obey.
While I have rarely encountered that stern voice again in our married life, I am learning to stop, listen and reflect when I do. I remember the doctor and the despair and the depression and remember that I can trust this man, because he will never ask me to obey—unless my body or soul is in imminent danger.
This is true Christian submission in marriage. It is accepting the humbling truth that no matter how strong or independent or smart you are, there is someone else who might know what’s best for you. There is someone who might even know you and love you better than you love yourself. There is someone who is willing to work for your highest good even when you can’t. Even when you won’t.
“This subjection, however, does not deny or take away the liberty which fully belongs to the woman both in view of her dignity as a human person, and in view of her most noble office as wife and mother and companion; nor does it bid her obey her husband’s every request if not in harmony with right reason or with the dignity due to wife; nor, in fine, does it imply that the wife should be put on a level with those persons who in law are called minors, to whom it is not customary to allow free exercise of their rights on account of their lack of mature judgment, or of their ignorance of human affairs.” -Pope Pius XI, Casti Connubii, 1930
This subjection does not demand blind obedience. It does not micromanage or abuse or belittle. It is “not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way.” It is the love of Christ for his Church, which is the only reason it is worth submitting to in the first place.